What I Do: Custom Foodscaping founder Matt Lebon
Custom Foodscaping’s founder Matt Lebon had little connection to plants or gardening growing up. But after returning home from two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, where his neighbors had yards filled with fruit trees, he was inspired to help people feed themselves from their own gardens. Here, Lebon shares some pro planting tips and talks about creating “magical food moments” through foodscaping.
“We work just like a landscaping company, where you might hire somebody to plant flowers and grasses and trees and shrubs. We do the same thing, but we plant edible plants: perennial vegetables like rhubarb and asparagus, perennial herbs like thyme and sage, fruiting plants like raspberries and blackberries, and fruit trees like pears and apples.”
“The other component of the business is we set up raised-bed gardens – we sometimes call these kitchen gardens. Traditionally, we build them out of local, rot-resistant cedar and install drip irrigation and build in trellises to create 3D elements in a landscape.”
“I’m one of the leaders of the team; I was the founder of the company. Now I focus on working with the team, client relations, and design and implementation of our projects.”
“I do think foodscaping is truly for everyone. Even at the tiniest scale of just a pot growing in your yard or on your patio, there’s so much spiritual nourishment and humbling life lessons in watching something grow over time and taking care of plants.”
“In a small South City backyard, we installed an espaliered apple tree along a garage wall with mint planted around it. To me, that is such a win – how a tiny space can be a huge enhancement to the landscape. And it’s tiny, but this beautiful apple tree will, of course, make apples. And then this mint that is arguably the most productive plant you could put in a landscape, because it just offers so much in terms of a little bit going a long way, but it is also a very aggressive spreader, so it needs be planted in the right spot. I see that as a classic way of using a small space to do something unique.”
“Our first big restaurant client was Vicia – that’s been documented a lot. We’ve moved on to The Royale. We’ve planted several fruit trees there already, espaliered pears and figs, and planter beds and grapes and jujubes. And we just finished at Songbird. We just put in some raised garden beds and some trellising and planted passion fruit vines.”
“We’re doing a sensory garden installation at the Wildwood YMCA. It’s got a lot of different components, each with a different theme. There’s a whole section of the garden based on citrus, where we’re planting everything that’s citrus-inspired, like lemon balm, lemon verbena, and the only hardy orange bush that you can grow in our climate. Then we’re doing another little pod we’re calling ‘the edible candy area,’ where we’re planting all these black licorice-flavored plants and strawberries and stevia – all these things that are sweet and found in candy.”
“Generally, the cool seasons are great [for planting], so that’s typically going to be March and April as well as October. Late September to early October is the sweet spot there in the fall, because you want to get it in before it gets really cold. You want it to have a little bit of time to acclimate. And a good mulching if you’re fall planting is a great tip, because that helps insulate the ground.”
“In terms of things that people might grow, I would encourage them to try berries and fruiting shrubs. A lot of people don’t think about these things when they think about fruits, but they’re the easiest fruits to grow. Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries especially – those are easily available locally, and a lot of the local varieties are the varieties that we recommend.”
“Sometimes, I say we’re in the business of creating magical food moments, where you smell or eat something and you’re just like, ‘Wow!’ A light bulb goes off. If we believe what I believe, which is that that moment can have a profound influence on the way that we make decisions around our health, the health of our yards, the health of our planet, health of our bodies, then we have to figure out ways to get [foodscaping] into public spaces where it’s not just in the backyards of those who can afford it. So I really would hope that we can continue to move from backyards to public spaces or workplaces where more public access can happen.”
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